Landing your first client
Clients are the lifeblood of your business - whether you’re a kerbside hairdresser, an international business consultant or the head of a multi-billion dollar empire. Learning how to find, get, and keep clients is the #1 skill you’ll need when getting started.
This can be really daunting though, especially if you’ve never had to sell anything before. It’s not uncommon to deal with questions like:
- Why would anyone even pay me for this?
- How much should I charge?
- Won’t they see right through my inexperience?
- I have no reputation here, why would anyone trust me?
- What if I mess it up?
You also may not even be 100% sure what it is you can sell, or how to build a sustainable business around that. If you have no idea where to begin - you’re in the right place!
There are a few key points to hit, and this article will cover the highlights.
- Goods and Services
- Basic Sales and Marketing
- Opportunities and Markets
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
It’s a bit weird to start a business article with a touchy-feely topic like empathy, right?
For at least the foreseeable future, all of your customers will be human beings. Humans have hopes and dreams, get frustrated by the world around them, and will usually seek to trade their money for solutions to the problems they face.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Learning how to spot those problems, sympathize with the people that are going through them, and offering the relevant solution - that’s a superpower.
When you’re starting out, and your marketing is happening on a 1-to-1 basis, these are table stakes. You can always hire other people later on to be empathetic on your behalf, but as a basic rule, you need to be able to see the world from your customer’s point of view.
Goods and Services
Pretty much everything we spend money on can be classified as Goods (cars, property, furniture) or Services (coffee, landscaping, Uber trips, OnlyFans). When you’re deciding on what sort of business you want to run, there are two important things to consider:
- Whether or not you should focus on goods or services, and
- Disregarding point 1 because that’s the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask is “What pain points am I really good at solving?”, and then seeing whether that’s best achieved as a good, or a service. Build the solutions that the problems lead you to.
Basic Marketing and Sales
Entire books have been written on the topics of sales and marketing, and many more will continue to be written. There’s a few key elements that’ll (probably) not change during your lifetime though. It comes down to two definitions:
Marketing is you putting yourself in front of your target market, with whatever tools or tactics work best in that environment.
Sales is the process of building a mutually beneficial relationship between yourself, and the customer that’s going to pay you to solve problems for them.
Whatever business you’re trying to build, reflect on those two points and figure out how they best fit into the sort of work you’re trying to do. And always stay on top of whatever new information, data, or research is relevant to your field.
Opportunities and Markets
An opportunity is really simple:
- Someone has a problem
- They’re unable or unwilling to solve it themselves
- They have money
- They are willing to spend it on a solution
Those are the four key elements of an opportunity. Take any one of them away, and you’re wasting your time:
- Solutions in search of a problem? Waste of time.
- Clients that believe they can solve it themselves? Don’t even try convincing them.
- No money? Take a seat, we’re here to work.
- Not willing to spend it? Come back later.
Speaking from experience, I have lost many days, weeks and months on ideas that were solutions in search of a problem. Not every idea has merit - that’s where markets come in.
Markets are actually really simple: They’re people with money, problems, and are actively looking for a solution. Markets can take many different shapes: Taxi ranks, shopping malls, social media pages, WhatsApp groups.
Wherever people with problems congregate, that’s a chance to sell. When you’re starting out, you’ll want to work in the markets you’re most familiar with - somewhere you speak the slang, know what people are frustrated by, and have a good idea how you can help.
All of the above is meaningless if you don’t have the ability to deliver on your promises - so get really good at delivering on your promises. Everybody makes mistakes when they’re starting out, but you’ll quickly learn things like:
- Managing customer expectations - and how to not over promise
- The amount of effort it takes to actually deliver - usually more than you think, at first
- The importance of clear communication, adapted to your customer’s style
- The gap between what you can currently do, and what you need to be able to do, in order to deliver.
The best marketing tool at your disposal is your reputation, and the best way to build your reputation is to make promises, then deliver on those promises consistently. You don’t need to be the best or the fastest, but you do need to be efficient and reliable.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Business is not like climbing Mount Everest, where you set a really ambitious target and trade decades of your life to the grind. It’s much more like a daily exercise routine - you have to get up and do it every day, and every time you do, you get a little better at it.
You’re going to mess up your first few sales. You’re going to undercharge and end up doing much more work than you thought you would. You’re going to misinterpret what a customer wanted and end up leaving them dissatisfied. You’re going to take risks that you believe in, only to watch them fail. You’re going to get down votes and bad reviews on your online store. People are going to trash your ideas, your branding, your products, and you as a person.
And you’re going to get up every day, learn from your mistakes, and do it all over again. You’re going to design vetting processes to screen out bad customers. You’re going to develop templates and tools for making the boring-but-necessary parts repeatable. You’re going to learn to listen for critical feedback and interpret it positively, while disregarding emotionally-charged garbage. You’re going to find (and keep!) people in your network that are trying to do the same things you are.
Business is a marathon. Whether you’re selling sandwiches on the sidewalk or trying to disrupt the way business itself is done, it’s going to take some measure of endurance from you. As much as you work on your business, you’re going to find that your business works on you, too.
Whatever you’re doing - be open to feedback, learn from your mistakes, and keep doing it.
Landing your first client
Let’s put this all together:
- Learn how to connect with people on a personal level (Empathy)
- Identify the problems you’re good at solving (Goods and Services)
- Pick your market and make yourself visible (Marketing)
- Build a mutually beneficial relationship with one person (Sales)
- Build relationships with as many people as you can (Markets)
- Identify opportunities to solve people’s problems (Opportunities)
- Close deals, solve problems and earn money (Execution)
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat (Repeat, Repeat, Repeat)
These don’t necessarily have to be done in order, but they all have to be done repeatedly over time for you to see results - both in your business, and in yourself.
You got this!